Track and field overcome challenges before SEC Championships

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Track and field overcome challenges before SEC Championships

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Charlie Ford, Sports Writer

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Coming off successful performances at Iowa State, Vanderbilt and Arkansas last weekend, the Alabama indoor track team will depart next week for Fayetteville, Arkansas, for the annual SEC Indoor Track and Field Championships. Both the men and women squads are currently ranked inside the top 15 nationally and have already qualified for the national championship.

Last season, the men were able to break the ice and win their first SEC Championship since 1972 after falling just short to Arkansas the year prior.

“We were in the thick of things two years ago,” head coach Dan Waters said. “It came down to the last race at the championship in ’17. In ’18, we were able to win, and we’re hoping to show out even stronger this weekend.”

There is a unified sense among players and coaches that this year’s men’s team is improved and has a great chance to defend its title.  

“I think on both of those two trips, going in we had less points on the board predicted than we do right now,” Waters said. “Hopefully if we can keep the trend and obviously improve on where we are ranked in the SEC currently, then hopefully that turns into a positive result.”

Coaches and players alike have high hopes for the improvement already seem from last season.

“Last year, we worked with what he had, and this year we have an even better team,” sprinter Champion Allison said.

It’s no secret that Arkansas has dominated the SEC when it comes to women’s indoor track, as the Razorbacks are looking for their fifth straight conference crown.

“Unseating Arkansas would be a difficult task,” Waters said. “I think they’re No.1 in the country, and it’s probably the best team I’ve ever seen them have at this particular point, so I think we’re just gonna try to focus on what we can do to score as many points as we can and having better performances going in and coming out with a season-best and we’ll be happy. This women’s team is an outstanding team, don’t get me wrong, and I’m not saying they don’t have a chance, but I’m just saying that we’re focusing on what we can do on one end at a time.”

The women’s team will rely on experience and confidence in order to compete in Fayetteville.

“There’s more confidence going into the meet,” shot putter Haley Teel said. “All of our girls have been to the SEC Championship before, so I think that’s an advantage.”

While the ladies are also very competitive, currently ranked 13th in the nation, they have yet to taste the thrill of becoming SEC champions.

Both the women’s and men’s teams, however, have had to persevere through the same adversity in order to compete amongst the best. Alabama is one of the few SEC institutions that has yet to add an indoor track facility, making practices much more difficult compared to other SEC foes.  

“There’s a big difference between going out there and doing a workout when it’s like yesterday, where it’s 46 degrees and raining, and we’re out there blasting doing the best we can,” Waters said. “That’s the big difference, as somebody said, an indoor facility with 75-degree weather.”

According to throwing coach Derek Yush, scheduling practices is a major challenge.

“We switch between the outdoor facility and the barn when we are able to be in there, and we go up to Birmingham as well, so it’s not best situation in the world but we roll with what we’ve got,” Yush said.

Waters also believes this inconvenience is the reason why many people typically count Alabama out in when it comes to indoor track.   

“That’s one of the main reasons why we’re never really considered much of a factor coming indoors,” Waters said. “When it turns into indoor season, we’re just catching up with everybody else that’s been at it and trained a little bit through indoors, and have had a little bit better weather than we’ve had. We’re always a team that comes in looked at as under-ranked, and we always overshoot our rankings when it comes to team performances.”

However, coaches believe this setback teaches their kids to fight through adversity and makes them mentally tougher than competitors.  

“The good news is that we’re tougher than most, so we’re going there, we’re excited about being there,” Waters said.

The SEC Indoor Track Championship will begin on Friday, Feb. 22, in Fayetteville and conclude the following day. After returning to Tuscaloosa, the team will begin preparation for the national championship, which will take place in Birmingham on March 8-9.